Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse Interview

Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse Interview

8th April 2021 0 By Rory Glashan

With a distinguished history dating back over 30 years, Death Metal legends Cannibal Corpse continue to hold recognition as one of the most prominent Extreme Metal bands out there and are set to add a 15th album into their notoriously graphic, violence infested discography. Releasing on the 16th April, “Violence Unimagined” consists of 11 tracks as well as work from their newest guitarist Erik Rutan

I’ve caught up with founding member and renowned bassist Alex Webster to chat about their new album, how they’ve been getting on as a group and how it’s been working with their most recent addition to the lineup.

So, your new album! As a huge Cannibal Corpse fan, I’m loving the new singles so far and I’m incredibly eager to hear everything as soon as it’s out! What can you tell us so far about Violence Unimagined?

Well first of all, a few things have been different. You’ve probably seen in the press release that we’ve had a line-up change and Erik Rutan is replacing Pat O’Brian permanently within the band and this is his first album playing with us. Erik himself has contributed to 3 songs lyrically and musically for this one and of course, his lead/rhythm guitar playing is heard throughout this record, that’s a fairly big change! But you know, he’s been playing Death Metal for as long as we have and he’s got a very developed style that we wanted to integrate into our sound and I think we managed to do that pretty well for Violence Unimagined! So there’s that! Another difference of course would be the lockdown/pandemic related issues we had.

The recording sessions for this new album took place last year around April to June and I believe the final master wasn’t even done until around July, but anyway! That was right in the middle of the most anxiety filled time of the pandemic – it was still a very new thing and all these travel restrictions were coming in place and nobody knew what was coming next. So I ended up staying and recording my tracks at my home studio in Oregon, the other guys all still live in Florida in the Tampa area. My wife and I moved to Oregon several years ago and I’ve just been going out whenever I need to do stuff with the band and then living here the rest of the time. I know how to record at home and that wound up not being a problem, it was definitely different but not a problem.

The technology exists these days to make remote recording a pretty seamless operation, you can record a Direct Line from your bass into ProTools and then you can send the recorded tracks over the studio where they can be re-amped and that’s what Erik did! I actually recorded two channels, one was a clean Direct Line and the other was a Direct Line that had an Overdrive through a Darkglass pedal. But anyway, I think he just used the clean channel then put it into an Ampeg with a Darkglass pedal in front of that… And there you go! So it was as if I was standing in the studio with them playing these tracks. Erik really loves this old Ampeg SVT he has, so that was probably the same amp I would have used if I had been down there as well!

So yeah, me recording remotely in my home studio as opposed to recording down in Florida in the big studio with the rest of the guys and Erik joining the band. These are the two things that are the big differences we can really talk about Violence Unimagined as opposed to the other albums.

And Erik has also done the production for the new album too? 

Yes, and this is actually the 5th album he’s produced for us! He had previously produced Kill, Evisceration Plague, Torture. For the next one, A Skeletal Domain, we worked with Mark Lewis’s producer then we went back to Erik and had him do Red Before Black, so that’s four of the last five and then now he’s produced this one, And actually, out of the fifteen albums we’ve done with producers, he’s now tied for first place with the most albums produced! We had Scott Lewis do the first five and now Erik has done five out of the previous six albums we’ve written, so now him and Scott are tied for the most Cannibal Corpse productions! 

It’s been a weird and difficult past year for a lot of us, especially musicians… How have Cannibal Corpse managed to continue on and stick with each other through these recent times and do you think it’s been a tough challenge to keep working together?

I mean, if anything the challenge is that we’re not working together as much as we’d like, normally we’d be getting ready to go on tour right now since we’ve got an album coming out in April and we would normally be touring in support of it and that’s pretty much how it’s always worked! On the release date, we’re usually on the road when the album comes out or getting ready to go on the road but now there is all this waiting around and not knowing what’s coming next. We’re continuing to work on other things though, a couple of the other guys are involved in other projects and things like that and we’re also continuing to write new Cannibal Corpse material. We might as well since that’s what we normally do when we are home from tours and since we’re at home indefinitely, we’re gonna keep writing and kinda get ahead of the game on the next album after Violence Unimagined!

But yeah, it’s a waiting game for our entire industry, everyone prioritizes safety, health and everything but we’re still all curious about when we’re going to get back to work. We all love to tour and then of course that’s how bands make their living, I think for most bands that’s how they make their bulk of their earnings. Some of the bands I know, they have other jobs and their music is part-time so things haven’t changed as much for them because they have other forms of income but for us, this is all we’ve been doing for years so this is all a big change.

As long as you’re keeping on track and everything is working out okay!

Well, we’re managing, you know what I mean? But we’re looking forward to get back to it by next year though and hopefully then, everything will be back to normal!

So what else have you been going to keep yourself occupied during lockdown? I imagine it’s great to have all the free time to, relax, write new music and get lots of practice done but was it easy to get burnt out, tired or bored at all?

Well I think it would have probably been harder to deal with mentally when we were younger, I can’t speak for the other members of the band but we’re all married or have a family that we’re spending a lot of time with now. But that’s one of the things you have to look for a silver lining in, especially with something as serious and tragic like the pandemic and being able to spend more time with the people that are close to you is definitely one of those things that you can look at as the bright side. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife and our dogs so that’s been a positive thing for sure and I’m sure the other guys must feel the same way.

But when you’re younger? Well we’re all in our late 40s, probably early 50s at this point so we’re not the kind of guys who would be going out to bars or doing as much social stuff, you do that a lot more when you’re a little younger. I would imagine that for people that are used to a nightlife style and who go out a lot more, it’s probably been mentally more challenging since they’re more social. Not that we’re anti-social, but we’re probably just at an age where we’re spending more of our time with our family and less time going out and doing social things. So it’s not been as drastic as it has been for younger musicians. 

It’s definitely been quite tedious, we’ll keep hoping for an end to it all soon, but we just don’t know what to expect anymore. 

Oh yes, I think everybody is on the same page with that!

What’s your first plan of action as soon as you’re able to get back on the road? Do you have any particular destinations in mind? 

It’ll probably start with American touring for us and then maybe Canada, and that’s not that we don’t want to come over to Europe (and everywhere else) we want to get going to Europe, South America, Asia, everywhere else we go as soon as possible. We really wanna get all over the place again but logistically and due to the pandemic, if it seems like our own country has finally opened up again, that’s the first place we’re going to be playing. We won’t have to cross a border and who knows how this is all going to play out but they’re probably have something like some kind of card that shows that you have the Covid-19 vaccine before you enter another country. They already do that sort of thing when we travel to certain places in South America where they’ve had problems and outbreaks with certain diseases like Yellow Fever and stuff and I would suspect they’ll bring up something pretty similar for international travel but I suppose that’ll take a bit of time to set up. Whereas touring in the US? We can probably do it as soon as everything is open again! Now, there will be a mad rush by thousands of other bands to do the exact same thing so I think that there’s going to be a bit of a tidal wave of concerts for the first 6 months or so after things open up and then it should hopefully start to get a little more normal over time but yes, our first tour will almost certainly be in the United States since we’re already here!

When you look back on your memories from touring, what are the fond memories that stand out to you the most? 

Oh it’s hard to say, it’s all really fun! There’s certainly some things about touring that aren’t as fun sometimes, like if sleeping conditions are bad or something like that – so much that’s not good about touring ends up being about little things like that. Something as simple as being sleep deprived because you have to catch early morning flights, wait in long lines, check in all this gear to get to the next show and so on. Those are the kind of things that you don’t miss but at this point we’ll take it! Know what I mean? I think that for every musician that has had any grumbling to do about stuff that happens on tour, they’ll just take it all on and stride from here on out after having been forced off the road for a year or so.

But as far as good things go, it’s really the fun of playing in front of a really energetic audience that you’ve missed and the comradery with your band and your crew. It becomes a bit like a second family for everybody and I’m sure we’re not the only band that feels that way. Every band we meet, you can tell that they have that similar kind of thing going on where they’re all very close friends and everybody is having a lot of fun hanging out with each other! So you’ve got this travelling group of friends, playing in front of killer audiences nightly, having fun and you’re seeing the world…there’s a lot to miss about it and it’s a very fun way to make a living you know? We’ve been extremely lucky, we’ve always appreciated it and we feel so grateful to our fans for making it all possible but we’ll surely appreciate it that much more when we’re back out there.

Talking of that, what is the best thing that we could do, as musicians and music lovers for the scene as soon as lockdown comes to an end?

Well, just try go back to normal in a safe way! Whenever lockdown ends, there will probably be some safety things put into place or whatever so just comply with whatever they are, get out there and see some shows! If you can afford it of course! The entire world economy is probably not in the greatest place right now, the entertainment business took a hard hit of course and certain other businesses that are reliant on lots of people being in small places like movie theaters and restaurants. There’s tonnes of people who have been impacted by this so if you can afford to come out to see shows and want to do it then please do! I think that would help out any musicians you’re going to see, if you’re going to go out and pay for a ticket as soon as it’s finally safe to do so then it will be a great way to help and of course it would be helping you too, hopefully you’ll be having fun!

What do you think of the current shape of the metal scene and where do you see it going in the future? Anything you wish you could change?

Well, the metal scene seems pretty healthy right now, I’ve always felt like Extreme Metal, like Death Metal and other kinds of Metal sorta have a built-in growth mechanism to evolve where most young musicians were inspired by bands that came before them. But, they also kind of wanna one up those bands a little bit. Maybe play a little faster, maybe play a little more technical, maybe write a better song somehow. Go a little more grotesque with your lyrics if it’s some sort of gore-oriented thing like what we do or some kind of Goregrind band or whatever. Because everybody kind of wants to build up on what came before them, it’s perpetually healthy. It’s not one of those music genres that steeped in so much tradition that you can’t move it forward without people complaining.

I think that the forward growth of Metal is sort of built into it and you can see it from the beginnings like with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and onwards. Each successful band ends up adding a little something to the sound and taking it in a slightly different direction so I think it’s in a good place. There’s so many different kinds of sub-genres, some are REALLY way out there and are going off in odd directions and some of them are fairly traditional but the bottom line is, that it seems like there is still a lot of interest in various different kinds of metal, lots of young, new bands coming out so the future looks pretty good!

I think that’s the beauty about Metal, how there’s so much creativity and everybody loves to make their own ‘one of a kind’ thing whilst being inspired from others and just to branch out be as creative as they want! 

Yeah! There’s not really any limits! And so much of the stuff that became part of Metals sound, well I think that a really strict traditionalist kind of musician would say “That’s wrong!” and “You’re doing that wrong! Don’t do that!” And it’s like, we all did it anyway! Like Blastbeats…That wasn’t really a drumbeat that anybody would do until the late 80s when it first started to be used but that kind of playing was usually reserved to be a section of a drum solo or something. Like the ‘DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN’ real fast snare strikes, so actually turning that into a drumbeat that is used from the beginning to the end of a song in some cases.. Some people might view that musically, just wrong. But nothing is wrong in music, that’s the point, you can do anything you want!

We all respect where we come from, I think everybody looks up to those bands who started the genre and moved it forward. Like I said, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, all these bands that built and laid the foundation for this huge music scene. Everybody looks up to them but we’re not stuck on it and we’re not imitating them, we are building on it…and one thing always leads to another and I always call it, the ’Stairway Of Metal’ or whatever! But it just kind of gradually builds up and you end up with some really cool things and everybody has a chance to do whatever they want with it and that’s great!

Have you noticed any particular bands arising within the Death Metal scene recently that you believe will eventually become huge within metal? Or perhaps any new favourites at all?

I can’t predict who will get huge, I’m not good at that and I haven’t checked out as many bands as I should. Lots of people have been telling me about new bands and I’ve tried to keep up throughout the years with some of the hundreds of newer bands and I’ve fallen a little bit behind. But one of my favourite bands (not exactly new, but they’re fairly new) is this one band called Perdition Temple and we actually toured with them, that was our last tour along with Thy Art Is Murder back in November-December of 2019, the last shows we played before lockdown.  So, Perdition Temple. I’d definitely recommend them!

Also, I have no idea how big a Death Metal band can get these days but they are one of my favourite bands. Their guitarist Gene is a veteran Death Metal musician, he played in Angelcorpse, Blasphemic Cruelty. Gene has done a lot of stuff over the years and I really appreciate all the stuff he’s written. So Perdition Temple is his latest thing and I recommend it to anyone who loves Death Metal!

So Cannibal Corpse has been active for over 30 years and you’re still going strong with a 15th album! How do you look back on your musical development and success and how it’s led you to where you are today?

I think the word I’d use is gradual. It’s been very gradual development and we’ve tried to stay very consistent to the original mission of the band in the beginning, we’ve always kept in mind what that is and tried to keep it there throughout our whole career! There’s a little bit of a development on each album which is normal and each album represents the best thing we can do at that time as musicians and songwriters. I do feel that as much as there’s been a development, it’s been so gradual that you could take a song from Violence Unimagined and play it right next to songs from Eaten Back To Life (our first album) on stage and they don’t sound out of place next to one another and you can see that throughout our career. We have grown but there has been enough consistency there that I feel like it’s all still the original kind of Cannibal Corpse thing. We have even added some different things here, some slower parts and stuff that we did not do in the very beginning but still, it’s somehow it’s been kind of tied together.

If any development is going on now, I’d say that aside from trying to be more technical or faster or something we’ve done over the years, we have tried to develop into a group of songwriters that can write a group of really interesting diverse songs. And that’s hopefully what we did with Violence Unimagined! Made an album where you can listen to all 11 songs and all of them sound pretty different from one another. Hopefully the first song makes you wanna keep listening all the way through to the end! One after the other, it keeps you engaged that’s what we’re trying to do. The biggest focus of improvement these days is our song writing. 

Is there anything you’ve written from Violence Unimagined that you’re most excited to share with us and do you have a new favourite song from the album or a new favourite to play?

Well there is a song called “Follow The Blood” that Rob Barrett wrote, that was one of his compositions for the album and I feel like out of the whole album, maybe that one might be the most different but yet somehow still fitting into our style. It’s just got some different stuff and also, Rob let me do some bass licks so that’s maybe why I like the song as well! But I just think it’s this really unique song! It’s still super heavy and it sounds very much like us but it’s pretty unique, it’s cool song! So yeah, “Follow The Blood” might be one of my favourites. Also, some of the stuff that Erik contributed like “Condemnation Contagion“, which I think is one of our catchiest songs. And out of the four songs I wrote? I think “Surround, Kill, Devour“. I’m really interested to see what people think of that one because I think it turned out very catchy and memorable. We’ll see though, it’s up for everybody to decide!

How was it writing songs with Erik? Was it easy for you guys to keep the Cannibal Corpse characteristics and themes and was his work influencing your own sound in a good way? 

Well, we actually write pretty separately from one another, we get all the songs written before we even go into the studio. Sometimes we’re not quite done with the lyrics once we get in, but the music is usually completely written. We might work on the leads, maybe add a few harmonies and things like that but the songs are done before we get in there so Paul has a chance to practice them well. We don’t really re-write once we’re in there but as far as Erik goes, he wrote all three of those by himself. Now like I said, he does have his own style that he’s developed over the past 30 years having been in Ripping Corpse, Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel. He’s been a writer in all of these bands and has a very well developed musical personality and he’s been playing as long as we have. So we weren’t really concerned that he wouldn’t be able to integrate because he had produced four albums for us in the past so he knew about our music that way. Of course he had listened to us but being a producer of our albums makes you that much closer to the music. And then on top of that, before he fully joined, he had already toured with us for a year and had 20 of our songs were in his fingers by the end of that year. Once you have it in your mind from listening and producing for the band and having a lot of their songs under your fingers after playing them for a year, you understand a bands style.

So Erik understood how to integrate his own personal signature sound into our signature sound too. These songs he wrote, they wouldn’t be Hate Eternal songs and if you listen to them and Cannibal Corpse they’re both Death Metal but they’re both two different styles and Erik understands that and the stuff he writes for one band wouldn’t really work with the other. I couldn’t hear these three songs he wrote on a Hate Eternal album. Maybe “Ritual Annihilation” because it’s so fast but for sure, “Condemnation Contagion” and “Overtorture” wouldn’t fit, They’re Cannibal Corpse songs, he wrote that for us.

It does sound like Erik was the perfect choice, did you have any other choices in mind or was he your first pick?

We didn’t. Obviously there are a lot of amazing Death Metal guitar players out there but for us, Erik was the perfect choice. He’s an amazing Death Metal guitarist with an impeccable resume. He’s been in Morbid Angel, one of the other very top bands in the scene and Hate Eternal as well. He’s got the skills which are undeniable and then on top of it, he’s a producer who has worked with us a bunch and then there was just a personal connection! We’re all such good friends with him and the chemistry of the band really gelled when we toured together. It was a really positive and energetic situation and he’s a very positive and energetic guy. Super hard working and brings a lot of skills and just has such a great attitude to the band. He was our number one choice and he wanted to do it so…here we are! I’m sure if we had looked around there could have been somebody else but Erik was our number one choice and we are so happy he’s in the band! 

Is there anything else you’d like to add or any words for your supporters at all?

Well, I just wanna thank everybody for all the support and stay safe out there and hopefully, we’ll see you all sooner than later! 

Thank you so much for joining us, Alex! 

Cannibal Corpse’s fifteenth album “Violence Unimagined” releases on the 16th April 2021 on Metal Blade Records. 

To purchase Violence Unimagined, click HERE

For all things Cannibal Corpse, click HERE

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